The hero’s mantle and the 1965 ACC tournament’s most valuable player award went to Larry Worsley. A reserve who poured in a career-high 30 points in the final, Worsley was the sole non-starter named MVP in the tournament’s first 61 years. His performance led N.C. State to its fifth ACC championship, the only one under Press Maravich, a coach popularly remembered more for his prodigiously gifted son, “Pistol” Pete, than for the mastery he exhibited in a brief tenure on the sidelines at Raleigh.
Yet that tournament 50 Marches ago ultimately belonged to Everett Case, the man who set the stage for N.C. State’s success and for the popularity of the ACC and its signature event, which sold out annually from 1965 until 2009. “The tournament was everything to him,” recalls Les Robinson, a Case player (1963, 1964), a 1965 Maravich assistant, and much later N.C. State’s head coach.
From Case’s arrival at Raleigh in 1947 through 1956, his squads won nine titles in 10 seasons in the Southern Conference and ACC. That supremacy and his uptempo style elevated not only N.C. State’s reputation, but stoked interest statewide in men’s baskeball. “He just beat everybody up around here,” says Raymond “Bucky” Waters, a Case player from 1956 to 1958.
Case retired two games into the 1964-65 season suffering from exhaustion, headaches and what proved terminal cancer, an unfortunate fate he shared with later Wolfpack basketball coaches Jim Valvano and Kay Yow. Maravich was Case’s hand-picked successor. Hired away from Clemson, where his Tigers nearly won the 1962 ACC championship despite a losing record overall, Maravich served as an early version of a coach-in-waiting.
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With or without Case’s physical presence, his touch was everywhere at the 1965 ACC tournament – from 12,400-seat Reynolds Coliseum, the campus arena he pushed to completion in 1949, to the single-elimination ACC title event he championed, to the N.C. State squad he and Maravich assembled.
N.C. State led the nation in attendance for a decade, winning with regularity and entertaining as it went. Case saw to it Reynolds had a live organist, just like a big-city arena. (“Dixie” was a crowd favorite.) During games, a manually operated sound meter exhorted fans to yell ever louder. Early in his tenure Case’s players wore capes during warm-ups, an accoutrement better suited to today’s earrings and tattoos and fascination with vampires.
Long before scoreboards featured overbearing pre-game videos with decibel-drenched paeans to dunking – before anyone envisioned video or dunking, for that matter – Case built anticipation with dimmed house lights and starters dribbling into a spotlight. Waters, an infrequent starter, remembers entering the illumination thinking, “Don’t dribble it off your foot!”
According to Waters, who went on to serve as a head coach at West Virginia and Duke, Case was confident and “very smart” but less coaching mastermind than savvy orchestrator, an inspired promoter who employed gifted assistants and recruited exceptional players to execute uncomplicated strategies. “We respected him. We understood what he had built, how he had built it,” Waters says. “We knew he cared about us and loved us, but we weren’t ready for him to show us how to attack the 2-2-1 defense.”
Case’s success, including a third-place NCAA tournament finish in 1950, spurred neighbors to action. North Carolina hired Frank McGuire in 1952-53, and in 1959-60 Duke turned to Vic Bubas, formerly Case’s top lieutenant. Both programs soon surpassed N.C. State. UNC was undefeated and won the 1957 NCAA title. Duke finished alone atop the conference standings for four straight seasons (1963 through 1966), a run unequaled until Mike Krzyzewski’s teams did likewise from 1997 to 2000.
During the sixties a single ACC team was allowed to play in the NCAA tournament, none in the NIT. “I remember the fact that the expectation of finishing first in the regular season is a big burden,” says Duke’s Steve Vacendak, MVP of the 1966 ACC tournament. “The pressure to win is significant because you had to win the tournament to go anywhere to play. So, when you win the regular season, people just expect you to succeed and move on.”
The Blue Devils did capture ACC titles in 1963, 1964 and 1966, advancing each time to the Final Four. But State interrupted that streak in 1965 with its 91-85 win. “I remember it being a huge disappointment,” Vacendak says. The loss arguably prevented Bubas from cementing Duke’s national prominence long before Krzyzewski arrived at Durham.
Final public appearance
N.C. State crushed Virginia in the ’65 quarterfinals, with sixth-man Worsley among four players in double figures. Playing on its home court – an unfair advantage cured when the tournament moved to Greensboro in 1967 – the second-seeded Wolfpack then dispatched Maryland and starting guard Gary Williams, eventually its Hall of Fame coach. Five N.C. State players scored in double figures in the 76-67 semifinal win, including Worsley with 15. The Pack set a tournament record by hitting all 22 of its free throws.
Under Maravich, N.C. State had lost three times during the regular season, twice by double figures to Duke, its championship game opponent. Starter Billy Moffitt quickly got into foul trouble against the nationally eighth-ranked Blue Devils, and here came Worsley off the bench. “I was really relaxed, confident,” recalls the forward from Oak City, northeast of Tarboro. “I never really felt pressure. The pressure was on the teams we were playing.”
Worsley, admittedly slow and not much of a defender, was under orders from Maravich to let fly from the perimeter, his specialty. An odd shooting motion, hoisting the ball behind his head, was no handicap. “He could shoot the eyes out of it,” Robinson says. “He just had a natural ability to shoot.” Eddie Biedenbach, a sophomore starter at guard, says teammates weren’t surprised by Worsley’s 14 of 19 shooting against Duke, 23 for 39 on the weekend. “Worsley made a lot of practices miserable for the starters.”
Both teams pressed full court throughout the final. Vacendak and Marin, later an All-American, tried to stay with Worsley as he used screens to get free. Bubas even tried a box-and-one, with 6-10 Hack Tyson shadowing the 6-5 sharpshooter, but to no avail. “Of course we were playing for N.C. State but we were playing for coach Case too, hoping we could upset Duke,” Worsley says.
Through it all, Case, 64, sat near the N.C. State bench in a wheelchair, his first public appearance since retiring in early December. “When the game was over, we went and picked him up and carried him around the court,” recalls Worsley, the first recipient of the ACC tournament MVP award named for Case. Robinson hurried down from the smoky reaches near the Reynolds ceiling, from which he telephoned observations to Maravich on the bench during games. “It was extremely emotional,” he says of victory’s aftermath. “It was just unbelievable.”
Case had introduced the ACC to the practice of champions cutting down the nets, an Indiana high school custom. With a single strand remaining, Wolfpack players paused to hoist the frail Case onto their shoulders and assisted him in making the final celebratory snip. It would be the Hall of Famer’s last public appearance before his death nearly 14 months later.